x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

UAE entrepreneur goes to Hollywood

Badr Jafar is in talks with Oscar-winning US filmmakers to produce a globally appealing movie that challenges hostile views about Arabs.

Emirati entrepreneur Badr al Jafar is in talks with American filmmakers to produce a film to portray the Arab world in positive light, and counter negative views that the world often has of Arabs. Randi Sokoloff / The National
Emirati entrepreneur Badr al Jafar is in talks with American filmmakers to produce a film to portray the Arab world in positive light, and counter negative views that the world often has of Arabs. Randi Sokoloff / The National

DUBAI // Emirati entrepreneur Badr Jafar is in talks with leading Hollywood filmmakers to produce a movie showcasing the positive side of the Arab world.

The project is the first to be developed fully by his film company, Full Moon Productions, which until now has invested in ventures launched by others.

"It will have a massive Arab theme," Mr Jafar said. "It's classical, it goes back quite a long time, but there are a lot of contemporary themes in it.

"It's fun, it's celebratory, it's completely non-political, but it showcases some of the beautiful heritage that came out of this part of the world.

"It will be shot partly here in the UAE as a co-production with a very well-respected, American Oscar-winning team.

"We need to invest in films that have an ability to be international. It's nice to do a movie about pearl diving, that's great, but it will have limited interest globally. We need to do movies that are able to touch hearts and minds globally."

The project is part of Mr Jafar's efforts to correct what he sees as a negative view of Arabs.

"If you ask any high school student in the UAE to name their icons they'll all be able to do it," he said. "Some will write Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, some will put Steve Jobs, Bill Gates or Warren Buffett.

"Go and ask the equivalent of a high school kid in the UK, the US or China to do the same for an Arab icon and they'll really struggle to come up with one name.

"Most names, not necessarily of icons but of Arab people they know, will be the likes of Muammar Qaddafi or even Osama bin Laden.

"Are these the ambassadors we want to represent what Arabs are around the world? Absolutely not. Our ambassadors need to be our good politicians, our singers, our actors, our entrepreneurs."

Mr Jafar said he did not intend to present a distorted view, but simply wished to highlight and showcase what the region had to offer.

"We also want to educate our own youth and make them proud," he added.

Mr Jafar, 33, from Sharjah, teamed up with music legend Quincy Jones to produce the charity single Bokra. He is president of Sharjah's Crescent Petroleum and is involved in many other ventures. In 2011 he was named a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum.

He is a vocal supporter of social entrepreneurship, where businesses provide benefits to society as well as making profits.

"The UAE is already a hub for business," he said. "But we don't have to stop at just your classical traditional business. We have to look beyond that at businesses that generate a positive social return. This is where I think there's a huge opportunity."

He plans to launch a fund in partnership with other Emirati and UAE-based investors to help successful small businesses expand regionally and then globally.

The initiative would support companies producing such products as food, jewellery, arts and crafts and textiles.

"It would be a case of going to that successful manakish stall that has been there for 30 years and saying, 'Everyone loves the way you make your manakish, have you thought about going to first of all Beirut or Amman or somewhere else in the region, or a little bit further, or eventually London or New York?'

"Most would say, 'I don't know where to start,' and this is where our money and our expertise would be able to help them in exchange for a stake in their business.

"It would be the equivalent of having the UAE pizza on the street there. The social benefit would be that suddenly everyone is walking the streets of New York thinking, 'I'm eating this UAE product and I love it - they've got cool food there so I like them already'."

csimpson@thenational.ae